January 15, 2015. By Wouter van Daalen and Jeroen Geelhoed, &samhoud consultancy
In our experience many boardroom leaders discuss the importance of trust and supervisory boards talk about applying more “soft controls” such as trust level, organizational culture or behavioral aspects. However, these discussions are often poorly translated into tangible, actionable ideas to measure and influence these aspects in their organizations.
Since they are classified as “soft aspects” that depend too much on relations and people’s perceptions, they seem hard to control. Maybe we can agree on the fact that trust is hard to control, but with the right understanding it is surely a factor you can make tangible and strongly influence. Nevertheless, successfully building new trust requires a systematic approach in which many times the courage of leadership is tested to make harsh decisions in the short term that will lead to long term gains by stopping “trust bleeders” and enhancing “trust builders” hidden in every organization.
Based on our experience and building on research and publications we propose the following steps to help an organization to build new trust:
1. Audit your trust level, make it tangible, measure internal and external trust and audit your trustworthiness as an organization.
2. Search for “builders and bleeders” and define the topics for “must have debates”. Accelerate and organize decision making and creative problem solving on issues that have the biggest impact on trust. Execute quick wins.
3. Trust begins with connection. Trust is the result of a relationship between people and/or organizations. A relationship starts with real connection. Work on deeper connection between people, but also a stronger connection with the organization, its leaders, its identity, its strategy and its role in society.
4. Organizational trust is about connecting internal trust and external trust. Connect the world of employees with the outside world. What is the level of trust and pride within your organization? What does an employee say about your company to his/her neighbor? Is the internal story the same as the story your company tells externally? Or vice versa: are your employees as proud of your brand as your clients? Connecting these two worlds is key in building trust. Work on consistency in your story and your actions. In organizations we divide trust into internal trust and external trust, because both forms have different impact and different dynamics.
- Internal trust is formed by employee trust: self trust, trust in other employees and trust in the organization.
- External trust consists of the trust that stakeholders have in the organization.
- Connection between internal and external trust means connection between employees, customers and stakeholders.
5. Being trustworthy is essential for sustainable trust. An organization must be trustworthy. Trustworthiness has to be in “the heart” of your organizational system. Trust in matters like your business model, reliability in behavior, results, internal practices and performance management creates sustainable trust, both internally and externally. In a world of increased transparency, trust bridges the inside of organizations with the outside.
To determine if your organization is (perceived to be) trustworthy, you can use the character and competence model, inspired by Stephen Covey. ‘Character’ consists of intentions and integrity. Intentions: does the organization have the right motives? Does it have an honest agenda? Integrity: is the organization honest, sincere and incorruptible? Are its values congruent? Do they do what they say? ‘Competence’ consists of capacity and results. Capacity: are there enough knowledge, skills, talent and means to deliver? Results: does the organization perform according to plan? What’s the track record?
By applying the model to a number of trust themes (e.g.: income model, incentives culture and behavior, customer service, etc) you can determine your trust builders and bleeders and analyze their root causes.
First steps at Rabobank
In the past year trust in Rabobank has declined rapidly due to negative publicity and practices like the LIBOR affair. That is why Rabobank Utrecht, one of their biggest branches, decided to actively take the lead in restoring trust in their direct environment. In order to restore trust both internally and externally, meetings with customers, employees and members of the Member Council were organized to make a deep dive into this important subject. All groups were actively engaged in an analysis and dialogue about Rabobank with questions like ‘what is our strength?’, ‘what does it mean to be a cooperative bank?’, and ‘how can we make sure we do things right?’. The first dialogues have led to higher levels of engagement and ownership from the employees. The members of the Member Council also feel a restored trust in their bank and feel they can act as ambassadors of the bank again. The first steps to build new trust are made.